Northrop M2-F3

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M2-F3
Northrop M2-F3.jpg
Role Lifting body technology demonstrator
Manufacturer Northrop
First flight 2 June 1970
Retired 20 December 1972
Status Donated to the Smithsonian Institution, currently on display at the National Air and Space Museum
Primary user NASA
Developed from NASA M2-F1
Northrop M2-F2

The Northrop M2-F3 was a heavyweight lifting body rebuilt from the Northrop M2-F2 after it crashed at the Dryden Flight Research Center in 1967. It was modified with an additional third vertical fin - centered between the tip fins - to improve control characteristics. The "M" refers to "manned" and "F" refers to "flight" version.

Development[edit]

Early flight testing of the M2-F1 and M2-F2 lifting body reentry configurations had validated the concept of piloted lifting body reentry from space. When the M2-F2 crashed on May 10, 1967, valuable information had already been obtained and was contributing to new designs.

NASA pilots said the M2-F2 had lateral control problems, so when the M2-F2 was rebuilt at Northrop and redesignated the M2-F3, it was modified with an additional third vertical fin - centered between the tip fins - to improve control characteristics.

After a three-year-long redesign and rebuilding effort, the M2-F3 was ready to fly. The May 1967 crash of the M2-F2 had torn off the left fin and landing gear. It had also damaged the external skin and internal structure. Flight Research Center engineers worked with Ames Research Center and the Air Force in redesigning the vehicle with a center fin to provide greater stability. At first, it seemed that the vehicle had been irreparably damaged, but the original manufacturer, Northrop, did the repair work and returned the redesigned M2-F3 with a center fin for stability to the FRC.

While the M2-F3 was still demanding to fly, the center fin eliminated the high risk of pilot induced oscillation (PIO) that was characteristic of the M2-F2.

Operational history[edit]

First flight of the M2-F3, with NASA pilot Bill Dana at the controls, was June 2, 1970. The modified vehicle exhibited much better lateral stability and control characteristics than before, and only three glide flights were necessary before the first powered flight on November 25, 1970. The 100th flight of the heavy-weight lifting bodies was completed on October 5, 1972, with pilot Bill Dana soaring to an altitude of 66,300 feet (20,200 m) and a Mach number of 1.370 (about 904 miles per hour) in the M2-F3. Over its 27 missions, the M2-F3 reached a top speed of 1,064 mph (Mach 1.6). Highest altitude reached by the vehicle was 71,500 feet (20,790 m) on December 20, 1972, the date of its last flight, with NASA pilot John Manke at the controls.

The M2-F3 at the National Air and Space Museum

A reaction control thruster (RCT) system, similar to that on orbiting spacecraft, was also installed to obtain research data about their effectiveness for vehicle control. As the M2-F3's portion of the lifting body program neared an end, it evaluated a rate command augmentation control system, and a side-arm control stick similar to side-arm controllers now used on many modern aircraft.

NASA donated the M2-F3 vehicle to the Smithsonian Institution in December 1973. It is currently hanging in the National Air and Space Museum along with the X-15 aircraft number 1, which was its hangar partner at Dryden from 1965 to 1969.

Aircraft serial number[edit]

  • NASA M2-F3 - NASA 803, 27 flights

M2-F3 flights[edit]

Vehicle
Flight #
Date Pilot Mach Velocity
(km/h)
Altitude
(ft)
Duration Comments
M2-F3 #1 June 2, 1970 Dana 0.688 755 45,000 00:03:38 First M2-F3 Flight
Unpowered glide
M2-F3 #2 July 21, 1970 Dana 0.660 708 45,000 00:03:48 Unpowered glide
M2-F3 #3 November 2, 1970 Dana 0.630 690 45,000 00:03:56 Unpowered glide
M2-F3 #4 November 25, 1970 Dana 0.809 859 51,900 00:06:17 1st powered flight
M2-F3 #5 February 9, 1971 Gentry 0.707 755 45,000 00:04:01 -
M2-F3 #6 February 26, 1971 Dana 0.773 821 45,000 00:05:48 Only 2 chambers lit
M2-F3 #7 July 23, 1971 Dana 0.930 988 60,500 00:05:53 -
M2-F3 #8 August 9, 1971 Dana 0.974 1,035 62,000 00:06:55 -
M2-F3 #9 August 25, 1971 Dana 1.095 1,164 67,300 00:06:30 1st supersonic flight
M2-F3 #10 September 24, 1971 Dana 0.728 772 42,000 00:03:30 Engine fire
M2-F3 #11 November 15, 1971 Dana 0.739 784 45,000 00:03:35 -
M2-F3 #12 December 1, 1971 Dana 1.274 1,357 70,800 00:06:31 -
M2-F3 #13 December 16, 1971 Dana 0.811 861 46,800 00:07:31 Only 2 chambers lit
M2-F3 #14 July 25, 1972 Dana 0.989 1,049 60,900 00:07:00 -
M2-F3 #15 August 11, 1972 Gentry 1.101 1,168 67,200 00:06:15 -
M2-F3 #16 August 24, 1972 Dana 1.266 1,344 66,700 00:06:16 -
M2-F3 #17 September 12, 1972 Dana 0.880 935 46,000 00:06:27 Small engine fire
M2-F3 #18 September 27, 1972 Dana 1.340 1,424 66,700 00:06:07 -
M2-F3 #19 October 5, 1972 Dana 1.370 1,455 66,300 00:06:16 100th lifting
body flight
M2-F3 #20 October 19, 1972 Manke 0.905 961 47,100 00:05:59 -
M2-F3 #21 November 1, 1972 Manke 1.213 1,292 71,300 00:06:18 -
M2-F3 #22 November 9, 1972 Powell 0.906 961 46,800 00:06:04 -
M2-F3 #23 November 21, 1972 Manke 1.435 1,524 66,700 00:06:17 Planned Rosamond
Lakebed landing
M2-F3 #24 November 29, 1972 Powell 1.348 1,432 67,500 00:05:57 -
M2-F3 #25 December 6, 1972 Powell 1.191 1,265 68,300 00:05:32 Planned Rosamond
Lakebed landing
M2-F3 #26 December 13, 1972 Dana 1.613 1,712 66,700 00:06:23 Fastest flight
M2-F3 #27 December 20, 1972 Manke 1.294 1,378 71,500 00:06:30 Highest flight
Last M2-F3 flight

Specifications (M2-F3)[edit]

NASA M2-F3 Lifting Body Diagram

General characteristics

Performance

See also[edit]

Comparable aircraft:

External links[edit]